By Edris Kiggundu
Over the last five days, President Museveni has been traversing Luweero district ostensibly to supervise the progress of the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) programme.
One of the most memorable moments of the president on the tour includes a series of photographs where he is captured fetching water in a jerrycan using a bicycle. Thereafter he is seen pouring it in mineral water bottles to water his garden at Kawumu.
Critics on social media and elsewhere have already made fun of these pictures, wondering how this will further the country’s plan of modernizing its agriculture and our aspiration of attaining middle-income status. But the president’s handlers say he was trying to illustrate how people can use drip irrigation, during a dry spell, to water their gardens.
For the time being, Museveni seems unbothered. During the tour, he inspected people’s gardens, addressed public rallies and engaged in some practical agriculture at his farm in Kawumu.
“It was also a nostalgic exercise as I met families that supported our bush struggle. For example I met the family of late Lule, whose house we used to store drugs and visited the home of late Zakayo Kalibbala, another veteran. His son Esau Wasswa is running a big coffee plantation. Generally, there have been reports of seedlings distributed under OWC drying up but I am happy the Luweero ones are doing well,” he said on Monday.
The president said his main emphasis this time is to show the rural folks that with four acres of land, one can jump out of biting poverty.
“For Luweero, the key, in my view, is the four-acre model. I will personally inspect farms on foot to ensure that I demonstrate how this model of one acre of coffee or tea, one acre of fruits, one acre of food and one acre of pigs/animals, works,” he told a rally at Kawumu, where he has established a demonstration farm.
Museveni told local leaders not to just stop at distributing seeds but to follow up with supervision. He said agriculture officials should offer technical assistance to the farmers.
The president warned people against land fragmentation, saying no meaningful commercial agriculture can be carried out on small pieces of land. From Luweero, Museveni is expected to move to other parts of the country assessing the implementation of the OWC programme.
Don Wanyama, the senior presidential press secretary, told The Observer yesterday that largely Museveni’s tour of Luweero had been a success.
“The president has been candid enough and admitted where there are failures like when he talked about poor seedlings in some areas. So, he knows the problems but in Luweero, you could see some progress,” Wanyama said.
Wanyama said the soldiers are working with technical people from Naads to minimize some of the hitches. Sources said the president decided to conduct the countrywide tour after reports of poor seedlings and the fear that the programme had been mismanaged in some parts of the country.
Other critics have said the president is using the tour as a pretext for early political campaigns even though he will not be eligible to stand in 2021 unless the constitutional age-limit is lifted.
However, some local leaders in Luweero district, including NRM supporters told The Observer that while Museveni’s visit is timely, the OWC programme is yet to yield any tangible results. Rogers Mulindwa, the spokesperson at the NRM secretariat and a resident of the district, said OWC had been poorly implemented.
“Government must go back to the early plan of zoning areas such that each region is given crops that suit the conditions. They are giving people mango trees that need spacing of 30 feet by 30. People here [Luweero] do not have that kind of land,” Mulindwa said.
Mulindwa said Museveni’s tour is good because it is going to awaken the local leaders there to put more effort in the programme. Like Mulindwa, Bwanika Bbale, the FDC chairman of Luweero and a respected leader there, said the OWC in the district lacked focus.
“They give anybody seedlings without finding out whether they have land or not,” he said.
Bbale said some people had resorted to selling coffee seedling to others. He also expressed skepticism about whether the four-acre model can be applied successfully in the district, saying an averagely ‘big’ farmer in the district owns no more than two acres.
But Haruna Kasirye, the agricultural officer of Luweero, told The Observer yesterday that OWC is progressing well, denying that people had been given seedlings which they don’t need.
“We first study the situation before we distribute seedlings. The only problem we have faced is the long dry spell which has interrupted the programme,” Kasirye said.
He said while it is true that most people own less than four acres, they can still try to replicate Museveni’s model by subdividing their land for different uses.